Farm chores made fun, with the help of boy’s dog, pony sidekicks

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dairy herd

My father was born in 1932. Each day from about age 8, he was given the job of moving his family’s small dairy herd from the deep pasture, where the cattle had spent the day, near the creek for easy self-watering, back to the barn for milking.

It was a job he enjoyed above all others, and it is easy to picture the kid who loved being outdoors sprinting free of school each day, looking forward to his farm chores.

There were lots of boys his age who had similar chores. One walked a small herd across a road, delivering some to his own home and then walking the others down an alley in town, leading a milk cow or two to different properties. He did this after school, would return to his own home, gather eggs, feed and water the chickens, and help finish the milking.

The milk cows would usually stay “in town” for the night, and his job was to return them to the pasture, before walking to school the next morning.

When Dad was 10, his mother decided he was old enough for a pony. His mother’s reasoning was that her oldest son, who she lovingly called “Sonny,” would learn the responsibility of caring for it, and the pony would help him with his herd-gathering chores, leaving more time for school homework and review in the evening.

The pony was a colorful and sprightly thing, calm and well-broke. It got along well with the shepherd dog that was my dad’s sidekick on the farm. His mother’s plan was working, in the beginning, speeding up chore time.

It wasn’t long, though, til Sonny found more chores for the pair, not less, and the schoolwork could wait.

“The clock seemed to almost run backwards, or somehow get stuck in time, when it came to schoolwork hours,” my father used to say.

He was happy to roam the farm, and he learned to hold on tight, always riding bareback, as the pony and boy explored every corner of the farm.

There were strict orders each day to be washed up and in the house when it was time to eat together as a family. One night, the pony, the dog and the boy, all seemed to be missing when supper was about to be served. His father called for the dog, and was alarmed when there was no sign of it. Several family members began the hunt, growing more concerned as darkness began to fall.

Off in the distance, my grandfather thought he heard the faint bark of the dog. As he followed the sound, eventually he could make out the colorful pony. He saw the boy’s dog running in circles around the pony, nipping at the cattle and a horse that had gotten into the pasture with them.

The little boy was lying beside the pony, his leg clearly broken. He explained that the horse had kicked at his pony, striking his leg and the pony with such force that he was thrown off. Neither the pony or the dog left his side, the pony standing over him, head down. The shepherd dog was exhausted, grateful to be relieved from its guard duty.

“I tried to get back on the pony but my leg wouldn’t work,” Dad explained.

Many years later, he could clearly recall how upset he was that he wasn’t getting his chores done because his leg wouldn’t do what he told it to do. Before the night was over, the family doctor had come to the home and determined it was a bad enough break that a cast and crutches would be required for several months.

Dad said it felt like punishment to not be able to do his chores for such a long time. He often joked that he never was going to be as rich as his buddy, because one day, he came to find out that his friend was making a nickel a week for delivering milk cows to town ladies.

“He was a lot smarter than I was. I did my chores for nothing and then pretended to do all kinds of work. Pretend work does not pay anybody a nickel!” he said with a laugh.

My dad often said he knew he was born in the time and place that suited him perfectly and was always grateful for that divine placement.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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